Rinat Akhmetov has declared “we will rebuild the entire Ukraine”, five months after he was accused of being invited to join a Russian coup by President Volodymyr Zelensky
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Ukraine’s richest man has pledged to help rebuild the besieged city of Mariupol, months after the country’s president accused him of considering funding a pro-Russian coup.
Rinat Akhmetov has seen his business empire shattered by eight years of fighting in Ukraine’s east but remains defiant and confident that what he calls “our brave soldiers” will defend the Sea of Azov city reduced to a wasteland by seven weeks of bombardment.
The billionaire has declared “we will rebuild the entire Ukraine”, five months after Volodymyr Zelensky questioned his loyalty to the country.
“We will definitely need an unprecedented international reconstruction program, a Marshall Plan, for Ukraine,” he added, referring to the massive US-led effort to restore Europe in the wake of World War II.
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Akhmetov praised President Zelensky’s “passion and professionalism” during the war, seemingly smoothing relations after the Ukrainian leader last year said plotters hoping to overthrow his government had tried to involve the businessman.
Akhmetov called the allegation “an absolute lie” at the time.
“And the war is certainly not the time to be at odds… We will rebuild the entire Ukraine,” he said, adding that he returned to the country on February 23 and had been there ever since.”
For now, though, his Metinvest company, Ukraine’s biggest steelmaker, has announced it cannot deliver its supply contracts and while his financial and industrial SCM Group is servicing its debt obligations.
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“Mariupol is a global tragedy and a global example of heroism. For me, Mariupol has been and will always be a Ukrainian city,” Akhmetov said.
“I believe that our brave soldiers will defend the city, though I understand how difficult and hard it is for them.”
On Friday, Metinvest said it would never operate under Russian occupation and that the Mariupol siege had disabled more than a third of Ukraine’s metallurgy production capacity.
“My ambition is to return to a Ukrainian Mariupol and implement our (new production) plans so that Mariupol-produced steel can compete in global markets as before.”
Akhmetov, long Ukraine’s richest man, has seen his business empire shrink since 2014, when Russia annexed the Black Sea peninsula of Crimea and two eastern Ukrainian regions – Donetsk and Luhansk – proclaimed independence from Kyiv.
According to Forbes magazine, Akhmetov’s net worth in 2013 reached $15.4 billion (£11.8 billion). It currently stands at $3.9 billion (£3billion).
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The situation in Mariupol has become increasingly desperate over the past week, with Ukrainian officials suggesting tens of thousands of civilians had died there since the invasion began.
Russia said its troops had cleared most of the port city with only a small contingent of Ukrainian fighters in the giant Illich steelworks, as missiles hit Kyiv and other cities.
Russia’s demand that Ukrainian forces in Mariupol surrender by 3am GMT passed without immediate signs of a response.
Zelensky warned that peace talks would be scrapped if the city’s remaining defenders were killed.